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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Reflection On Near Sacrafice of Isaac - 06/28/2020

FIRST READING:  Genesis 22:1-14

Abraham was prepared to obey God's command amid extreme contradiction: the child to be sacrificed is the very child through whom Abraham is to receive descendants. God acknowledged Abraham's obedient faith, and Abraham offered a ram in the place of his son Isaac.

1God tested Abraham. He said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." 2He said, "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you." 3So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. 4On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. 5Then Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you." 6Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. 7Isaac said to his father Abraham, "Father!" And he said, "Here I am, my son." He said, "The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" 8Abraham said, "God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son." So the two of them walked on together. 9When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. 11But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." 12[The angel] said, "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me." 13And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14So Abraham called that place "The LORD will provide"; as it is said to this day, "On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided."

Word of God. Word of Life.  Thanks be to God.

PSALM: Psalm 13

I trust in your unfailing love, O LORD. (Ps. 13:5)

1How long, O LORD? Will you forget | me forever?

      How long will you hide your | face from me?

2How long shall I have perplexity in my mind,

and grief in my heart, day | after day?

      How long shall my enemy triumph | over me?

3Look upon me and answer me, O | LORD my God;

      give light to my eyes, lest I | sleep in death;

4lest my enemy say, "I | have defeated you,"

      and my foes rejoice that | I have fallen.   R

5But I trust in your un- | failing love;

      my heart is joyful because of your | saving help.

6I will sing | to the LORD,

      who has dealt | with me richly.   R

Gospel: Matthew 10:40-42

When Jesus sends his disciples out as missionaries, he warns them of persecution and hardships they will face. He also promises to reward any who aid his followers and support their ministry.

[Jesus said to the twelve] 40"Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet's reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; 42and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward."

The gospel of the Lord.  Praise to you, O Christ.                                   

Sermon

This is a really hard text and I’ll be honest with you; I continue to struggle with it in my own studies of the bible.

When I was in seminary, there was an academic panel on this text. People flew in from all over to present on it. I couldn’t wait to go because this text is so horrible in many ways. Unfortunately, it was my senior year, which feels a little like that first year after a baby is born … a lot of changes and growing and in that final academic push of seminary, a lot of sleep deprivation too.

So, although I remember feeling generally like what the scholars had to say was helpful and eye-opening, I don’t remember any details, and so I continue to wrestle with this text.

Now also, and again, I will be honest with you, this has been a busy weekend. A daughter of this congregation Amy Kuivanen was married to her love Joel Benson. Weddings are pretty intense normally, and even more so in time of pandemic. So, I admit to you, I’m pretty tired. So, I hope you’ll understand that I’m going to take a bit of a short cut this week and offer you some of a commentary on this text by Amanda Benckhuysen, a professor of Old Testament at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids.

I found it helpful in wrestling with this hard text and I hope you will to. She writes:

 A lot has happened between Genesis 12 when Abraham was first called out of Haran and this narrative here which functions as a book-end to the stories that focus on his life. From various clues in the text, it would seem that the narrator intends us to read Genesis 22 with this entire history in mind… This story, then, is the climax of all of the events that have preceded it.

Throughout the narratives of Abraham’s life, the pressing question is that of (offspring.) How will Abraham produce a son when Sarah is barren? As readers, we are relieved when Sarah gives birth to Isaac and God affirms that this is the one through whom (God’s) promises will be realized.

This primary theme, however, is complimented and complicated by a sub-theme, that is, the wavering faith of Abraham. In Genesis 12:4, Abraham responds to God without hesitation, packing up and going to the land that God would show him. And in Genesis 15:6, Abraham believed the Lord and it was credited to him as righteousness.

At other times, however, Abraham acts in ways that suggest doubt. Twice, out of fear, he tries to pass off his wife as his sister and Sarah ends up in the bedroom of the local ruler (Genesis 12:10-20, 20:1-18). So worried about producing an heir, he sleeps with a woman other than his wife (albeit at Sarah’s bidding). He laughs when God tells him that Sarah would bear a child and that she would become the mother of nations (Gen. 17:17). Throughout, there are indications that Abraham still doesn’t quite trust God to accomplish what he promised, or believe that God is a god of Divine word.

So God asks Abraham to demonstrate his faith by trusting God with his hopes, his future, his deepest longings, his only son whom he loves. Genesis 22:1 describes it as a test, signaling to the reader that God had no intention of going through with it. The messenger of the Lord stays Abraham’s hand, preventing him from killing his son. God never wanted child sacrifice after all. Rather, he wanted Abraham to face his own conflicted and divided loyalties.

The test serves its purpose and leaves an indelible mark on both God and Abraham. Abraham now knows, in the profoundest of ways, that life with God is a gift, and God’s blessing is freely bestowed. He need not do anything - God will provide—generously, bountifully, wondrously. All he has to do is look up (God) to see that God has been there all along, guiding his steps, directing his paths, and making a future for him.

But God now knows something too. God learns that Abraham fears God. This is the first time the narrator describes Abraham’s demeanor toward God in this way. Prior to this, the text depicts Abraham as listening to and obeying God. But in Genesis 21:12, God experiences from Abraham more—respect, awe, and a healthy dose of fear and trembling appropriate to a divine-human relationship.

Something changes between Abraham and God that day. Abraham learns to trust and fear God. And God proves that God can be trusted. In the history of God’s relationship with human beings, God would demonstrate this time and again. In the end, God’s commitment to fulfilling (covenantal) promises to Abraham and bringing about God’s redemptive purposes would end up costing God dearly. For while Abraham’s son is spared, (God’s) son (Jesus would be given up) to death. This too was an act of provision on God’s part—a provision that would ultimately fulfill what God started in Abraham, that is, the restoration of blessing to the nations and to the world.

Because Christ died, our relationship with God has forever been changed. Whatever sin, whatever guilt, whatever brokenness we carry, Christ has dealt with and abolished it in the cross. This story invites us then, to a posture of fear and awe as well as profound gratitude for God’s faithfulness to … covenant promises and the redemption we have through (God). (https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4500)

There is one particular part of this commentary that really struck me … Prof. Benckhuysen says: So God asks Abraham to demonstrate his faith by trusting God with his hopes, his future, his deepest longings, his only son whom he loves.

I think it asks us all to consider, in this year of the Lord 2020, in a time of pandemic and all the consequences of that disruption, with all all social and political unrest in the news right now, in the face of the existential threat climate change, and then on top of all that, and in light of the many challenges, tragedies and uncertainty will all face in our own lives, where are we wavering in our faith?

In what ways do we need to put our trust, our future, our deepest longings, even our children more courageously and assuredly in God’s hands … the God who does not ask for blood sacrifice from us, but willingly and completely sacrificed God’s only son for us?

It’s something to think about as we wrestled with this hard text about our forefather, Abraham. Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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